Breastfeeding can be a lifesaver, study says

bfeedIncreasing breastfeeding to near-universal levels for infants and young children could save over 800,000 children’s lives a year worldwide, equivalent to 13% of all deaths in children under two, and prevent an extra 20,000 deaths from breast cancer every year.
Just one in five children in high-income countries is breastfed to 12 months.
Only one in three children in low- and middle-income countries is exclusively breastfed for the first six months. As a result, millions of children are failing to receive the full benefits provided by breastfeeding.
The findings come from the largest and most detailed analysis to quantify levels, trends, and benefits of breastfeeding around the world, published in The Lancet.
The authors said, although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for children and mothers regardless of where they live, it has been overlooked as a critical need for the health of the population.
“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said author Prof. Cesar Victora from Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil.
Analysis of data from 28 systematic reviews and meta-analyses, of which 22 were commissioned specifically for this study, indicate that breastfeeding not only has multiple health benefits for children and mothers but also has dramatic effects on life expectancy.
For example, in high-income countries breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant deaths by more than a third, while in low- and middle-income countries about half of all diarrhea episodes and a third of respiratory infections could be avoided by breastfeeding.
It also increases intelligence, and might protect against obesity and diabetes in later life.
For mothers, longer-duration breastfeeding reduces the risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
There is also a strong economic case for investment in promoting breastfeeding. Modelling conducted for the report estimates that global economic losses of lower cognition from not breastfeeding reached a staggering US$302 billion in 2012, equivalent to 0.49% of world gross national income.
In high-income countries alone these losses amounted to US$231.4 billion, equivalent to 0.53% of gross national income.
In addition, the authors calculate that boosting breastfeeding rates for infants below six months of age to 90% in the U.S., China, and Brazil and to 45% in the U.K. would cut treatment costs of common childhood illnesses (eg, pneumonia, diarrhea, and asthma) and save healthcare systems at least US$2.45 billion in the U.S., US$29.5 million in the U.K., US$223.6 million in China and US$6.0 million in Brazil.
“Breastfeeding is one of the few positive health behaviours that is more common in poor than richer countries, and within poor countries, is more frequent among poor mothers,” explains Victora.
“The stark reality is that in the absence of breastfeeding, the rich-poor gap in child survival would be even wider. Our findings should reassure policymakers that a rapid return on investment is realistic and feasible, and won’t need a generation to be realised.”
According to Victora, “There is a widespread misconception that breastmilk can be replaced with artificial products without detrimental consequences. The evidence … contributed by some of the leading experts in the field, leaves no doubt that the decision not to breastfeed has major long-term negative effects on the health, nutrition and development of children and on women’s health.”
Meanwhile, another study found that breastfeeding for six months or longer was associated with a lower risk of childhood leukemia compared with children who were never breastfed or who were breastfed for a shorter time. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer and accounts for about 30 percent of all childhood cancers. Still, little is known about its cause.
Breast milk is meant to exclusively supply all the nutritional needs of infants and current recommendations include exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life to optimize growth, development and health.
Drs. Efrat L. Amitay and Lital Keinan-Boker of the University of Haifa, Israel, reviewed the evidence in 18 studies on the association between breastfeeding and childhood leukemia.
In a review of all 18 studies, the authors found breastfeeding for six months or longer was associated with a 19% lower risk compared with no breastfeeding or breastfeeding for a shorter period of time.